Remote & Async Work 6 min

4 essential elements of a sustainable remote work culture

July 7, 2020
Preston Wickersham


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What does a sustainable remote work culture look like?

You can add all the Slack emojis and game nights you want, but remote teams thrive on substance, not style. Whether your company went fully remote after the COVID-19 pandemic or you’ve been working remotely for years, you need a rock-solid foundation of accountability, collaboration, and communication if you want your business to flourish.

Your remote culture needs your commitment

Company culture grows by accident in traditional offices, even at companies with detailed culture guidelines. Small groups of people who share a vision and a workspace organically learn more about one another, growing closer out of convenience. This dynamic changes as companies grow, forcing leaders to take more proactive measures, but those leaders can still depend on the fact of constant in-person communication to keep things moving.

Remote teams don’t have that luxury. They don’t have break rooms where they congregate in the afternoon. They don’t all cheer for the same local teams or have kids who attend the same local schools. Their lives often happen in different time zones and within different cultures, where different priorities and rules dictate how relationships develop.

Without consideration for this dynamic, remote organizations fall prey to a host of problems. At best, employees feel disengaged from their work and don’t produce at their highest level. At worst, toxicity becomes the norm and in-groups create a hostile environment for the rest of the team.

Remote was born from a desire to bring the joys of remote work culture to more people and businesses around the world. But, like all great relationships, remote relationships require work — especially relationships between people in different areas of the world. Founders, leaders, and employees must take responsibility to create environments that facilitate both productivity and harmony.

Elements of a sustainable remote work culture

We established our values before we hired our first team member because we recognize the culture challenges inherent in remote work. Now with a full team, we continue to look to these values to provide a blueprint for how we can support one another.

Whether you’re a remote worker, a leader at a business looking to go remote, or just someone who cares about your colleagues, these four elements of sustainable remote work culture provide a solid foundation for any team.

Benefit of the doubt

We judge ourselves by our intentions, but we judge others by their actions. It’s easy to make incorrect assumptions about your colleagues’ motivations and thought processes when you don’t share a room. After a long day, you might find yourself thinking things like, “Why didn’t they just read the documentation?” or, “Why am I only hearing about this now?”

Our number-one value, kindness, reminds us to give others the benefit of the doubt in every situation. When someone appears to say or do something that is not kind, we ask for clarification instead of assuming malicious intent. We all want one another to succeed, and all of us are willing to do a little extra to make life a little easier for someone else. When you start with the assumption that everyone wants the best for everyone else, communication becomes much easier.

Empowered humility

Empowerment and humility sound like opposites, but in good remote work cultures, empowered humility keeps the wheels turning.

A person who feels empowered doesn’t wait for permission to investigate a potential innovation or to take care of a project. Empowered people know they have the backing of their colleagues and leaders, so they jump into their work confident in that support. Humble people, meanwhile, recognize that the best work happens during the collaboration phase, not the ideation phase. People who work with humility knock out awesome projects, then turn around and take a critical eye to their own work (and invite constructive criticism from others) without taking that criticism personally.

Put empowerment and humility together, and you have a team of people who feel supported both when taking the initiative and taking feedback.

Asynchronous workflows

Last year, we posted a detailed guide to asynchronous work that became one of our most popular posts. Teams in different time zones can’t afford to clog up their workflows with processes that demand in-the-moment collaboration with others. Sure, sometimes two people must sync up to make something happen, but in most cases, asynchronous workflows make life easier for everyone.

Asynchronous work is a simple concept: Do as much as you can with what you have, document everything, transfer ownership of the project to the next person, then start working on something else. In remote work cultures, this combination of documentation and clear handoffs ensures the next person can pick up where the first left off with minimal difficulty. Though commonly considered to be an engineering practice, asynchronous workflows help everyone from marketers to HR professionals manage their workloads efficiently.

Variety in connectivity

Remote believes strongly in the value of diverse perspectives. Our global team consists of members with different backgrounds from several different countries. We work toward a common goal with shared, documented values, but we don’t just want to work together — we want to get along. Teams separated by thousands of miles (or kilometers, for many of us) do better when everyone feels welcome.

Tools like Slack and Zoom make daily communication easier, but true cohesion requires proactive effort. Our whole team meets once per day to share important updates and answer the Question of the Day, which can range from the serious to the seriously weird. Anyone can contribute an idea for our product, blog, social media, or company operations, which we maintain on Notion, and everyone is welcome to call out practices or communications that may deviate from our commitment to inclusivity.

Remote work culture isn’t just about staying active on a messaging platform or playing games together (though we do that, too). The best remote organizations recognize that supportive cultures arise from the deliberate efforts of everyone involved and make it easy for leaders and employees to participate. As we help build a world with more remote jobs, we also want to ensure the remote teams of the future have everything they need to thrive.

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